Rural Georgia has it rough, economically speaking. Since the Great Recession, Georgia’s cities have regained the jobs they lost during that devastating economic contraction. Meanwhile, rural Georgia has not.
In fact, rural Georgia has fewer jobs post-2012 than it did in 2000, according to a new report from Georgia State University.
So when Gov. Nathan Deal touts the “25,341 new jobs” and “$4.4 billion in investment,” from global commerce or the “record $58.9 billion economic impact,” from tourism, an important caveat is where those new jobs are being created and where economic investment is happening — certainly not in rural Georgia.
“Georgia has consistently been named a top state for business because of our highly skilled workforce and business-friendly economic environment,” said Deal in a press release.
This state’s alleged “number one state for business” status — Deal’s favorite talking point — misses the big picture that Georgia needs to be number one for Georgians, regardless of where they live. Right now, rural Georgia does not seem to be getting the investment and support it needs from the state to generate and sustain job growth, and rural Georgians are feeling it.
An unfortunate aspect of all this is that, statewide, mid-wage jobs — those earning between $35,000 and $50,000 per year — have not recovered to their pre-recession levels. Rural Georgia has been the hardest hit, still down about 42,000 mid-wage jobs since the Great Recession. Georgia’s hub cities (excluding Atlanta) are also down 26,000 mid-wage jobs since 2007.
In other words, middle class jobs are rapidly disappearing from Georgia, and the significant growth in the service sector is replacing them with low paying gigs. In rural Georgia, jobs are just disappearing, period, and even years after the recession are not being replaced with anything — not even low-wage jobs.
The disparity in job growth across the state is fairly startling. Atlanta, for instance, is home to half the state’s population, but experienced 75 percent of Georgia’s job growth in the past couple of years. Atlanta’s Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties are responsible for more than half of this.
Yes, three urban counties in the entire state are where 40 percent of Georgia’s new jobs have been created since 2012.
Statewide, the manufacturing sector has been responsible for two-thirds of the total job losses since 2000, hitting rural Georgia particularly hard. While Atlanta and the state’s other hub cities — like Athens, Macon and Savannah — have seen declines in manufacturing jobs, these places have also seen a rise in service sector jobs to offset the losses. Rural Georgia has not.
The disparity in job growth across the state should not be ignored by policymakers. Rural Georgia is important to the state, and should get the infrastructure, education and health care investments it needs from the state to be an economic engine and give rural Georgians the opportunities we all deserve.